Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979). Courtesy

Elizabeth Bishop
Born February 8, 1911(1911-Template:MONTHNUMBER-08)
Worcester, Massachusetts, USA
Died October 6, 1979(1979-Template:MONTHNUMBER-06) (aged 68)
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Occupation Poet
Nationality United States United States
Literary movement Modernism
Partner(s) Lota de Macedo Soares (1952-1967)
Alice Methfessel (1971-1979)

Elizabeth Bishop (February 8, 1911 - October 6, 1979) was an American poet. She was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 1949 to 1950, a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1956 and a National Book Award Winner for Poetry in 1970. She is considered one of the most important and distinguished American poets of the 20th century.[1]



Bishop, an only child, was born in Worcester, Massachusetts. After her father, a successful builder, died when she was eight months old, Bishop's mother became mentally ill and was institutionalized in 1916. [2] (Bishop wrote about the time of her mother's struggles in her short story "In The Village.") Effectively orphaned during her very early childhood, she lived with her grandparents on a farm in Nova Scotia, a period she also referenced in her writing. Bishop's mother remained in an asylum until her death in 1934, and the two were never reunited.[3]

Later in childhood, Bishop's paternal family gained custody, and she was removed from the care of her grandparents and moved in with her father's wealthier family in Worcester. However, Bishop was unhappy in Worcester, and her separation from her grandparents made her lonely. While she was living in Worcester, she developed chronic asthma, from which she suffered for the rest of her life. [2] Her time in Worcester is briefly chronicled in her poem "In The Waiting Room."

Bishop boarded at the Walnut Hill School in Natick, Massachusetts, where she studied music.[2]. At the school her first poems were published by her friend Frani Blough in a student magazine.[4] Then she entered Vassar College in the fall of 1929, shortly before the stock market crash, planning to be a composer. She gave up music because of a terror of performance and switched to English where she took courses including 16th and 17th century literature and the novel but not creative writing. [2]Bishop published her work in her senior year in The Magazine (based in California)[2] and 1933, she co-founded Con Spirito, a rebel literary magazine at Vassar, with writer Mary McCarthy (one year her senior), Margaret Miller, and the sisters Eunice and Eleanor Clark.[5] Bishop graduated in 1934.


File:Great Village Elementary School.jpg

Bishop was greatly influenced by the poet Marianne Moore[6] to whom she was introduced by a librarian at Vassar in 1934. Moore took a keen interest in Bishop's work, and at one point Moore dissuaded Bishop from attending Cornell Medical School, in which the poet had briefly enrolled herself after moving to New York City following her Vassar graduation. It was four years before Bishop addressed "Dear Miss Moore" as "Dear Marianne," and then only at the elder poet's invitation. The friendship between the two women, memorialized by an extensive correspondence (see One Art), endured until Moore's death in 1972. Bishop's "At the Fishhouses" (1955) contains allusions on several levels to Moore's 1924 poem "A Grave." [7]

She was introduced to Robert Lowell by Randall Jarrell in 1947 and they became great friends, mostly through their written correspondence, until Lowell's death in 1977. After his death, she wrote, "our friendship, [which was] often kept alive through years of separation only by letters, remained constant and affectionate, and I shall always be deeply grateful for it".[8] They also both influenced each other's poetry. Lowell cited Bishop's influence on his poem "Skunk Hour" which he said, "[was] modeled on Miss Bishop's 'The Armadillo.'"[9] Also, his poem "The Scream" is "derived from...Bishop's story In the Village."[10] "North Haven," one of the last poems she published during her lifetime, was written in memory of Lowell in 1978.

Travel and successEdit

Bishop had an independent income from early adulthood as a result of an inheritance from her deceased father that didn't run out until the end of her life. [2]With this inheritance, Bishop was able to travel widely without worrying about employment and lived in many cities and countries which are described in her poems.[11] She lived in France for several years in the mid-1930s with a friend she knew at Vassar, Louise Crane, who was a paper-manufacturing heiress. In 1938, Bishop purchased a house with Crane at 624 White Street in Key West, Florida. While living there Bishop made the acquaintance of Pauline Pfeiffer Hemingway, who had divorced Ernest Hemingway in 1940.

File:Second Empire architecture in Georgetown.jpg

In 1946, Marianne Moore suggested Bishop for the Houghton Mifflin Prize for poetry, which Bishop won. Her first book, North & South, was published in 1,000 copies. The book prompted the literary critic Randall Jarrell to write that all her poems have written underneath, 'I have seen it,'" referring to Bishop's talent for vivid description.[12]

Upon receiving a substantial $2,500 traveling fellowship from Bryn Mawr College in 1951, Bishop set off to circumnavigate South America by boat. Arriving in Santos, Brazil in November of that year, Bishop expected to stay two weeks but stayed fifteen years. She lived in Pétropolis with architect Lota de Macedo Soares, descended from a prominent and notable political family.[13]While living in Brazil, in 1956 Bishop received the Pulitzer Prize for a collection of poetry, Poems: North & South/A Cold Spring, which combined her first two books.[14] Although Bishop was not forthcoming about details of her romance with Soares, much of their relationship was documented in Bishop's extensive correspondence with Samuel Ashley Brown. However, in its later years, the relationship deteriorated, becoming volatile and tempestuous, marked by bouts of depression, tantrums and alcoholism.[15]

It was during her time in Brazil that Elizabeth Bishop became increasingly interested in the languages and literatures of Latin America.[16] She was influenced by South and Central American poets, including the Mexican poet, Octavio Paz, as well as the Brazilian poets João Cabral de Melo Neto and Carlos Drummond de Andrade and translated their work into English. Regarding de Andrade, she said, "I didn't know him at all. He's supposed to be very shy. I'm supposed to be very shy. We've met once - on the sidewalk at night. We had just come out of the same restaurant, and he kissed my hand politely when we were introduced."[17] After Soares took her own life in 1967 Bishop spent more time in the US. [18][19]

Bishop did not write about the intimate details of her personal life in her poetry and did not see herself as a "lesbian poet" or as a "female poet." She only wanted to be judged based on the quality of her writing and not on her gender or sexual orientation.[20] Whereas many of her contemporaries like Robert Lowell and John Berryman made the intimate details of their personal lives an important part of their poetry, Bishop avoided this practice altogether. [21] And Bishop's style of writing is particularly known for its objective, distant point of view.

Later careerEdit

In addition to winning the Pulitzer Prize, Bishop won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award as well as two Guggenheim Fellowships and an Ingram Merrill Foundation grant. In 1976, she became the first woman to receive the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and remains the only American to be awarded that prize.[22]

Bishop lectured in higher education for a number of years starting in the 1970s when her inheritance began to run out.[23] For a short time she taught at the University of Washington, before teaching at Harvard University for seven years. She often spent her summers in her summer house in the island community of North Haven, Maine. She taught at New York University, before finishing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She commented "I don't think I believe in writing courses at all. It's true, children sometimes write wonderful things, paint wonderful pictures, but I think they should be discouraged." [2]

In 1971 Bishop began a relationship with Alice Methfessel.[24] Never a prolific writer, Bishop noted that she would begin many projects and leave them unfinished. She published her last book in 1977, Geography III. [2] Two years later, she died of a cerebral aneurysm in her apartment at Lewis Wharf, Boston. She is buried in Hope Cemetery in Worcester, Massachusetts.[25] Alice Methfessel was her literary executor. [24]


Elizabeth Bishop House is an artists' retreat in Great Village, Nova Scotia, dedicated to her memory.




  • North & South. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1946.
    • reprinted, 1964.
  • Poems: North & South [and] A Cold Spring. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1955.
  • Questions of Travel. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1965.
  • Selected Poems, London: Chatto & Windus, 1967.
  • The Ballad of the Burglar of Babylon'. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1968.
  • The Complete Poems. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1969.
  • Geography III,. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1976.
  • The Complete Poems, 1927-1979. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1983.
  • Edgar Allan Poe & The Juke-Box: Uncollected poems, drafts, and fragments (edited by Alice Quinn). New York: Farrar, Straus, 2006.
  • Poems (edited by Saskia Hamilton). New York: Farrar, Straus, 2011.[27]


  • The Collected Prose. (edited and introduced by Robert Giroux). New York: Farrar, Straus, 1984.
  • Becoming a Poet: Elizabeth Bishop with Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1989.
  • Conversations with Elizabeth Bishop (interviews with George Monteiro) Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1996.


  • Exchanging Hats: Thirty-nine paintings (edited by William Benton). New York: Farrar, Straus, 1996.


  • Alice Brant, The Diary of "Helena Morley,". New York: Farrar, Straus, 1957. **reprinted, 1995.
  • Octavio Paz, Selected Poems (translated with G. Aroul), New Directions, 1984.
  • Joao C. De Melo Neto, Selected Poetry, 1937-1990. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1995.


  • Brazil (edited with the editors of Life). New York: Time, Inc., 1962.
  • An Anthology of Twentieth-Century Brazilian Poetry (edited with Emanuel Brasil). Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1972.
  • Eight American Poets: An anthology (edited with Joel Conarroe & Theodore Roethke). New York: Vintage Books, 1997.


  • One Art: Letters. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1994.
  • Words in Air: The complete correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell] (edited by Thomas Travisano and Saskia Hamilton). New York: Farrar, Straus, 2008.[27]

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation .[28]

Audio / videoEdit

Elizabeth Bishop Selected Poems 92Y Readings21:58

Elizabeth Bishop Selected Poems 92Y Readings

  • The Voice of the Poet: Elizabeth Bishop (CD). New York: Random House, 2000.
  • Elizabeth Bishop (CD). Santa Ana, CA: Books on Tape, 2005.
  • Poems, Prose, and Letters (CD). Princeton, NJ: Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, 2008.

Except where noted, discographical information courtesy WorldCat.[29]

See alsoEdit


  • Costello, Bonnie (1991). Elizabeth Bishop: Questions of Mastery. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674246896. 
  • Kalstone, David (1989). Becoming a Poet: Elizabeth Bishop with Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux. ISBN 0374109605. 
  • Millier, Brett (1993). Elizabeth Bishop: Life and the Memory of It. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0520079787. 
  • Nickowitz, Peter. Rhetoric and Sexuality: The Poetry of Hart Crane, Elizabeth Bishop, and James Merrill. Palgrave Macmillan: New York, 2006.
  • Oliveira, Carmen L. , trans Neil K. Besner, (2002) Rare and Commonplace Flowers: The Story of Elizabeth Bishop and Lota de Macedo Soares (Rutgers University Press, 2002) ISBN 100813533597
  • Page, Chester (2007). Memoirs of a Charmed Life in New York. iUniverse. p. 77. ISBN 978-0-595-69771-7. 
  • Schwartz, Lloyd and Estess, Sybil P. (1983) Elizabeth Bishop and Her Art University of Michigan Press ISBN 10047206343X
  • Travisano, Thomas (1988). Elizabeth Bishop: Her Artistic Development. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia. ISBN 0813911591. 


  1. Originally published in the April/ May 1998 issue of Boston Review Retrieved 2008-04-25.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 "Elizabeth Bishop, The Art of Poetry No. 27" Interview in Paris Review Summer 1981 No. 80
  3. "Elizabeth Bishop". Worcester Area Writers. Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Retrieved 2008-04-25. 
  4. "Elizabeth Bishop". Walnut Hill School. Retrieved 2008-04-25. 
  5. "Elizabeth Bishop, American Poet". Elizabeth Bishop Society. Vassar College. Retrieved 2008-04-25. 
  6. Kalstone, David. Becoming a Poet: Elizabeth Bishop with Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell. University of Michigan Press (2001): 4. In an early letter to Moore, Bishop wrote: "[W]hen I began to read your poetry at college I think it immediately opened up my eyes to the possibility of the subject-matter I could use and might never have thought of using if it hadn't been for you. -(I might not have written any poems at all, I suppose.) I think my approach is so much vaguer and less defined and certainly more old-fashioned - sometimes I'm amazed at people's comparing me to you when all I'm doing is some kind of blank verse - can't they see how different it is? But they can't apparently."
  7. Stewart, Susan (2002) Poetry and the Fate of the Senses. University of Chicago Press 141, 357 fn.78 and fn.79).
  8. Bishop, Elizabeth. Poems, Prose, and Letters. New York: Library of America, 2008. 733.
  9. Lowell, Robert (2003) Collected Poems New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, p1046.
  10. Lowell, Robert. (2003) Collected Poems New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux p326.
  11. [ biog Retrieved 2008-04-25]
  12. Jarrell, Randall (2002) Poetry and the Age University Press of Florida p. 181
  13. article The Love of Her Life June 2002 The New York Times review of Rare and Commonplace Flowers: The Story of Elizabeth Bishop and Lota de Macedo Soares Retrieved 2008-04-25
  14. Pulitzer listing Retrieved 2008-04-25
  15. Bishop Biography Retrieved 2008-04-25
  16. Schwartz and Estess (1983) p236
  17. Schwartz and Estess (1983) p329
  18. Poetry Foundation profile
  19. Oliveira, Carmen (2002) Rare and Commonplace Flowers: The Story of Elizabeth Bishop and Lota de Macedo Soares Rutgers University Press, ISBN 0813533597
  20. Kalstone, David and Hemenway, Robert (2003) Becoming a Poet: Elizabeth Bishop with Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press
  21. Helen Vendler phone interview on Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop audio podcast from The New York Review of Books. Accessed 2010-09-11
  22. Neustadt International Prize for Literature listing Retrieved 2008-04-25
  23. Schwartz, Tony. Elizabeth Bishop Won A Pulitzer for Poetry and Taught At Harvard. New York Times 8 October 1979: B13 NYT article Retrieved 2008-04-25
  24. 24.0 24.1 Random House essay by Ernest Hilbert Retrieved 2008-04-25
  25. Elizabeth Bishop memorial
  26. "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter B". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 10 April 2011. 
  27. 27.0 27.1 Search results = au:Saskia Hamilton, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Oct. 3, 2015.
  28. Elizabeth Bishop 1911-1979, Poetry Foundation, Web, June 23, 2012.
  29. Search results = au:Elizabeth Bishop + audiobook, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Oct. 3, 2015.

External linksEdit

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